I write a lot on this blog about life-long disabilities, mostly because that’s my personal experience. Of course, millions of disabled people experience disability as a sudden intrusion that can derail the lives they thought were ahead of them. Then there are the relatively few who have the perseverance, creativity, and support they need to take a brief detour, but ultimately get back on their original track.
I wasn’t a huge heavy metal fan in the summer of 1987 when I listened to a special radio introduction of Def Leppard’s long-awaited album Hysteria, while unpacking for my "Sophomore Summer" semester in college. So, I was only vaguely aware of what the band’s real fans knew was special about the album. Not only was it way overdue, it was overdue in large part because the band’s drummer, Rick Allen, had lost his left arm in a car accident, and the band had, basically, waited while Allen re-learned drumming on an adapted kit. Even after I heard the story, I just sort of noted it. I wasn’t really tuned in to disability as an “issue” then.
It wasn’t until just after the Americans with Disabilities Act passed that I realized that Def Leppard had, essentially, provided Allen with a pretty massive “reasonable accommodation” to an sudden disability. They could easily have parted ways with him … offering prayers of support and sad farewells, and debuting a new drummer. They weren’t stuck with Rick. They chose to stick with him, and he to the band. And a key to that was ingenuity, adaptability, and an understanding of teamwork that doesn’t see people as simply interchangeable cogs.
Def Leppard is decidedly classic “Dad Rock” at this point. I don’t think they were ever the best band in the world, or inherently better than “the bands kids listen to today”. But they were very good, and very successful, and certainly never paid a discernible price for not leaving Rick behind, in an incredibly competitive and fast-moving industry. Heavy Metal and Pop Metal are very emotional, almost sentimental genres, and a story like Rick Allen’s still to this day provokes what one YouTube commenter calls “man tears” … a.k.a. “Inspiration Porn”. It’s hard to sustain the sentimentality, though, when the product is this particular music.
I still love it, once in awhile.